Grand Designs NZ’s ‘stealth bomber’ builder’s new home is an art gallery in a former steelworks
Art collector Scott Lawrie wowed viewers during the first round of Grand Designs NZ with his stunning, sculptural build in Pakiri, Auckland – and engaging personality. He still has his beautiful Scottish accent, his wonderful art collection and his enthusiasm for life, but today he lives in his new gallery in a former steelworks in Auckland.
Scott: Pakiri was a show pony house. I used to open it every weekend for visitors, as well as for art shows and fundraising events. But out of the blue, a local real estate agent called me while I was abroad to say someone wanted to buy it.
It was the right time to move. Loved it, but found myself pretty alone up there with just me and my little dog Skippy. I had opened my gallery in Matakana, but I had trouble moving forward. We would do very well in the summer, but the numbers would drop in the winter. When Covid hit, we backed off. We were the first gallery to close, which is really sad.
The sale of the house was settled in December 2019 and I stayed in Auckland. But I did not come directly here. I bought a house in Huia and had builders there for a year and a half. I bought it for $840,000 and sold it completely refurbished for $1.325 million, which was a record price for Huia. It gave me the capital to think of a gallery space. And this space in Mt Eden was the first place I looked.
It was an old steel works – they made steel windows like these for houses all over Auckland. I like the mix of commercial and residential.
Architect Paul Clarke, who designed the Pakiri House, designed this space, keeping the height high and creating two long galleries, so you can walk around it.
The kitchen was already there. I still don’t cook. But I love living in Mt Eden – it has everything from Sal’s Pizza to the local Indian and a pasta shop. It’s fantastic, but you gain a lot of weight with all that around the corner. But at least I’m walking around the corner and burning some weight.
I love living here, but it’s a very public space downstairs. You can leave your panties on the clothesline. There is no separation between public and private, except for my bedroom upstairs.
People say, ‘Do you think it’s weird not having a separation between work and life?’ I say no, because when you’re in the arts, there’s no switching on, switching off. The arts are something you love and do.
Very few of us are in it for the money. We do this out of passion and to support young artists, like Cook Islander Sefton Rani and Niuean Marcus Hipa from South Auckland. His painting Drifting Petals, 2022 refers to the devastating effect of climate change in the Pacific. It asks the question, ‘how do you have cultivation when you have no land?’.
For my first show in March (I had two) I printed 1000 flyers and went around and put them in mailboxes. And as I walked around, I thought I bet the big dealers don’t do that. We had 54 people come from the community to the open house – 51 of them had never been to a gallery before. And I love that.
We show Pacifica-Moana art and it changes the whole vibe. The type of people who visit the gallery has been a real eye-opener, and I’m really grateful to this community.
It completely changes your opening. You know, in a traditional vernissage there might be rich people coming, but here you get the whole whanau, pushing prams. They are happy to be here. I do a big song and dance to explain the job to people when they walk through the door, rather than letting them try to figure it out on their own.
If you make art accessible, people come. If you create posh galleries in white boxes where the language is incomprehensible and no one explains the stories behind the creation of the work, they become like morgues.
It’s also this thing of taking risks. A lot of my friends say, for God’s sake, slow down. But you see these things as challenges. For me, Pakiri was a challenge and I did it. People tell me, do you regret anything? And I say, well no, because I achieved everything I wanted to achieve. I was able to live five years on a beautiful hill in a beautiful part of the country, but then I got restless again.
I’ve been collecting art for about 15 years and still have plenty in store. Lots of other things are just hidden all over the room – I only climb stairs at night. But it’s also a big space up there, with a skylight and a bird’s eye view of the gallery.
Some people ask after my little dog Skippy. He is still there – he is 14 years old. He’s an old man. He has become deaf and can no longer see well. He bumps into everything, and the gallery floors were too slippery for him and he kept falling. So he’s recuperating with a friend – he’s a Ponsonby dog now.